The Lesson

The month of June, 1863 brought a common refrain to the citizens of Gettysburg: “The Confederates are coming!” The warning had come so frequently that many citizens had come to take them with a grain of salt, and carried on with their daily activities.

One such example was that of nineteen-year-old Nellie Aughinbagh, who, along with eight or ten other young women, was learning the milliner’s trade at the Middle Street home of Mrs. Mary Martin. On the morning of June 26, the class had started out in its normal fashion, but as Nellie explains

“ ‘Mr. Martin rushed excitedly into the work room, exclaiming that the Rebels were coming and he needed all the lead spoons.  Why? Well, with the Rebs coming, he said he was going to melt them down into bullets. ‘They’re at Cashtown now. Send the girls home,’ he told his wife. Several of the girls stopped immediately and left.  I was working on a bonnet that Mrs. Martin, who was very particular, had made me rip twice that day and start over again, and I said, ‘I’m not going home until I finish this bonnet, not if the whole Rebel army comes to town.’

Finally all had gone excepting me, for I still intended to complete that bonnet. Once more, he came running in, and hurrying over to me he grabbed my work from my hands exclaiming, ‘Go home, girl!  The Rebels are right at the edge of town!’ ”

Nellie finally heeded his warning, and by the time she reached the square, she could see the Confederates riding into town from the west. According to Nellie’s daughter, the saga of the troublesome bonnet didn’t end there:

“An amusing aftermath to the story of the bonnet Mother was working on was that she said later on she saw a Confederate soldier, who must have been somewhat of a wag, wearing the bonnet around town.”


Historical information:
Quotes from Nellie Aughinbagh as remembered by her daughter, Louie (possibly Louise or Lovie) Dale Leeds, in her manuscript, “Nellie Aughinbagh: Personal Experiences of a Young Girl During the Battle of Gettysburg”, Collection of the Adams County Historical Society

·         Firestorm at Gettysburg, Jim Slade and John Alexander, 1998, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.


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May 27, 2010